The Math Behind America’s Wasted Potential

I remember in 5th grade, just one year after 9/11, my class was given the assignment of writing an essay that was to be titled “Why America is the best country in the world.” Instead of being assigned a less smug topic such as “Why I’m proud to be an American,” or “My favorite part about living in America” I was already being asked indadvertedly manipulated into documenting my own unwanted narcissism compliments of my nationality. As an impressionable and fragile little 10-year-old, I felt like I was being asked to look down on others; I completed the essay confused and uncomfortable about my role in the world. After all, I had no choice but to think about why America is #1 or else I would fail the assignment.

This isn’t really surprising though, right? For anyone unaware, thousands of elementary schools across White Bread America (or what I like to call Bush Country) have been hiring teachers who can’t wait to assign projects like this in order to reinforce misguided patriotism. What bothers me about that is the idea of middle-class American youth continuing to acquire a false sense of entitlement while becoming less and less aware of how things actually work. It’s schools and teachers like this that intend to make a self-righteous island out of our country and I can’t stand it. Of course, schools across the nation also encourage kids to take foreign languages, write about historical events that took place in foreign countries, and read foreign authors. But honestly, 9 times out of 10, such teachers think European is the only synonym for foreign and it’s not ok. Plenty of people just like me had to teach themselves about Africa, South America, and Asia.

So anyway, back to what I was trying to get at: what actually makes a country “the best”? I’d like to think that no country is better than another, however, different nations are certainly better off than others. Some people might say that military power contributes to a country’s greatness due to the idea of being able to blow someone up if they disagree with you. Some would argue that culture could make a country the best in the world; best music, best art, best looking buildings, etc. Well, as far as I’m concerned, a country’s greatness can be measured by their entire population’s development. You know, it’s not what kind of weapons we have, it’s not about what paintings are hanging up in our museums, it’s about where our country is going. So how can that idea can be measured?

In 1990 Pakistani economist Mahbub ul Haq developed Human Development Reports that included each country’s Human Development Index. This statistic, stylized as HDI, measures a country’s standard of living and is determined by an algorithm that takes into account each country’s health, education, and economy.

Currently, the function includes 3 main factors and looks a little something like this:



So according to this initial formula, which is set up to result in a value between 0 and 1, America is seemingly one of the best countries as far as development goes.

In fact, when we plug in our numbers, we are ranked at 5th in the world with an impressive .914

Screen Shot 2014-09-19 at 1.38.36 PM

Oh well isn’t that peachy, 5th place! That’s good… right? Well, let’s just wait a minute…

This initial formula is used to find a basic HDI that pretty much measures a country’s standard of living before inequality is taken into account. Once inequality is considered and plugged into the equation, America’s score drops considerably. You’ll have to scroll a bit more to find us now…

Screen Shot 2014-09-19 at 1.57.08 PM

Is it just me, or is that .755 fucking embarrassing?

Once the Inequality-Adjusted Human Development Index (IHDI) is determined we can see that we’re actually nowhere near the top. We can also see that these 5th grade writing assignments don’t accomplish shit. Instead of making middle-class children write about how great our country is, maybe we should have them write about what we can do to eliminate inequality. What is the benefit of convincing tons of predominantly privileged students that our country is perfect? The problem is that none of their teachers want to admit our nation’s faults in that department so they choose to come up with essay topics that turn a deaf ear to our country’s real problems.

In short, I just want to point out that we can no longer afford to waste kids’ time and effort by making them regurgitate this bullshit cavalier attitude.

Mrs. Holland, if you’re reading this, just knock it off already.

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